10 Places and the Words They Inspired

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iStock.com/liveslow

1. Buncombe County, North Carolina

Just before the U.S. House was set to vote on allowing Missouri into the Union in 1820, North Carolina Rep. Felix Walker requested a chance to speak. When his exhausted colleagues tried to cut him off, he told them that his speech wasn't actually for the House at all, but for his constituents in Buncombe County. It's unclear whether he was actually able to give the speech (in some versions of the story, he did; in others, he was cut off and simply had it printed in the newspaper), but the eventual text was nonsense to most observers and had little to do with the debate at hand. Soon, journalists and politicians were using the name of the county—Buncombe—to mean frivolous talk, a word that eventually evolved to "bunkum" and then "bunk."

2. The Maeander River

The Ancient Greeks named the river that runs through southwestern Turkey to the Aegean Sea the "Maeander River." Today it's known as the Buyuk Menderes River. But the original Greek name lives on in the English word "meander," or "to wander," after the river's many twists and turns.

3. Tuxedo Park, New York

The Tuxedo Park village in Orange County, New York, was home to a high society crowd around the turn of the 20th century, with names like Colgate, Astor and JP Morgan (even etiquette expert Emily Post spent time in Tuxedo Park and has been said to have based some of her work on the culture she saw there). But the town's biggest legacy is in the formal dinner jacket for men that bears its name. There are a number of stories about how the tail-less jacket became branded the "tuxedo," but they all boil down to the style being popularized in the town, then brought to the rest of New York.

4 and 5. Genoa, Italy, and Nimes, France

Genoa, Italy, became known for producing a certain type of cotton cloth. Sailors fond of the corduroy pants produced with the fabric named them after the city, calling them "jeans." The French would then attempt to recreate the fabric. They were unsuccessful, but one cloth made in the city of Nimes caught on for its similarities to the Genoa product. The new fabric would be called "Serge di Nimes," eventually shortened to just "denim."

6. Soli, Cilicia

Ancient Greeks looked down on the residents of Soli, one of their colonies in Cilicia, for speaking their own form of the Attic dialect. The Greeks would later begin to refer to a dialectical difference or error as "soloikizo" (the word shows up in Aristotle's "On Rhetoric"), leading to the English word "solecism" for a grammatical misuse. "Between you and I" and "irregardless" would be English examples of solecisms.

7. The Isle of Lesbos

Lesbos island in the Aegean Sea was home to the Greek poet Sappho, whose work centered on love and beauty applying to both genders. It was her writing about women that led to her island's name being associated with homosexuality and by 1890, the word "lesbian" was appearing in medical dictionaries to describe a relationship between two women. The island has now become a popular gay tourist spot, despite attempts by natives to dispel the reputation; three residents even went to court seeking to ban the use of the word to describe gay women, although the suit was thrown out in 2008.

8. Paisley, Scotland

The teardrop- (or mango-) shaped design known as paisley has a long history of use in Indian culture, both on jewelry and in textiles. When traders from India in the 17th century began bringing back Indian products, the design became very popular and some European producers started incorporating it into their work. Production eventually became largely centered around the town of Paisley in Scotland, where by 1800 several weavers were making scarves adorned with the pattern—and lending it its Western name.

9. Bikini Atoll

The Bikini Atoll, a group of 23 islands in the Marshall Islands, was best known as a nuclear bomb testing ground, home to some 23 tests between 1946 and 1958. It was that reputation that led to French automotive engineer Louis Reard to borrow the islands' name for his two-piece swimsuit. When he first produced the suit for a French clothing firm, legend has it he named it the "bikini" because the impact it would have on men would mirror the force of an atomic bomb.

10. Bengal, India

The name of the quintessentially California house—the one-storied bungalow—is actually derived from Hindi. The word comes from the Hindi word "Bangla," meaning literally "of Bengal" in reference to the then-Indian province. The word eventually came to refer to the houses that were typical of the region and was brought into English as "bungalow."

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

iStock.com/VectorStory
iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

Scholar Claims the Voynich Manuscript Is Written in a 'Proto-Romance' Language

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, Wikimedia Commons
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, Wikimedia Commons

Various theories have attributed the Voynich manuscript to cryptographers, aliens, and pranksters. The book, written in an unknown text and dating back to the 15th century, has stumped codebreakers since it was rediscovered by a rare book dealer named Wilfred Voynich in 1912. Now, a scholar from the UK claims that the Voynich code isn't a code at all, but one of the only surviving examples of a proto-romance language, Artnet News reports. If true, it would have huge implications on the study of linguistics as a whole, but experts are hesitant to endorse the findings.

Gerard Cheshire, a research associate at the University of Bristol in England, describes his alleged breakthrough in a study published in the journal Romance Studies. He claims that the Voynich manuscript was written in a fully formed language Europeans spoke centuries ago. Proto-romance laid the foundation for modern languages like French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Hardly any known examples of it survived in writing because it was mainly a spoken language. Most important texts from the time were written in Latin, the official language of royalty, the church, and the government.

After identifying the Voynich script, Cheshire claims it took him just to weeks to translate the text. One passage next to an illustration of women struggling to give children a bath lists adjectives like noisy, slippery, and well-behaved, according to Cheshire. Another section, written beside pictures of volcanoes, describes islands being born out of volcanic eruptions. The scholar believes that Dominican nuns compiled the manuscript as a reference book for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon—Catherine of Aragon's great-aunt.

Many people have claimed to have cracked the Voynich code in the past, and experts are hesitant believe that this time is any different. After academics expressed concerns over the study, Bristol University where Cheshire works released a statement distancing itself from the research. It reads: "We take such concerns very seriously and have therefore removed the story regarding this research from our website to seek further validation and allow further discussions both internally and with the journal concerned."

If Cheshire's research does prove to be valid, that means he's accomplished something the greatest code-breaking minds in modern history could not. Not even cryptographer Alan Turing could crack the cipher.

[h/t Artnet News]

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